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The Ultimate Networking Cheat Sheet

Often, the hardest part of networking is getting started. Here's a manageable way to change your perspective and begin building fruitful relationships in the next 30 days.
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You have one month to land financing. Or recruit a mission-critical hire. Or find a new position. Whatever the deadline, you need to build relationships, you need to do it fast, and you need to do it right. This cheat sheet tells you how with a 30-day plan.

Do your homework.

A scatter-shot networking approach, especially in the middle of a crunch period, will frustrate and overwhelm you. Instead, start by getting clear about what you need. What are you trying to achieve? Who do you need to meet in order to make that happen?

If you're leading an internal team, do a simple stakeholder analysis of the people you need on your side. If you're job searching, write down your target job: location, title, and types of responsibilities. If you're seeking funding, learn about the different options before you start reaching out.

Start with the people you know.

Networking is not about meeting volumes of new people. Success is not measured in quantity of business cards. If you take a look at your existing network -- the people who know you and trust you -- you'll find more than enough eager help. People who know you are more willing to help than are new contacts, however you may need to refresh the relationship if it's been a while. So invite them to drinks or schedule a catch-up phone call.

Ask for introductions

Networks are based in trust. If people trust your integrity and intentions, they're often willing to help you out. Use the faith that people have in you to your advantage. Ask trusted contacts -- one-on-one, not in mass emails -- to introduce you to people who can help with your specific challenge. Make sure the parameters are clear and that you don't abuse your contacts' trust. A good test is to ask yourself: Would I be uncomfortable if my contact asked me for this? If the answer is yes, then don't do it.

Here's an example:

Wrong Way: I see that you know Martha Moneybags. I'm looking for angel investors and I'd love her to give us $30M for our business. Would you set up a meeting so I can make my pitch?

Right Way: I see that you know Martha Moneybags. I'm looking for angel investors and I'm looking for industry experts to talk with as I move down this path. Would you introduce me to her so I can ask her advice?

Build relationships.

Did you propose to your spouse on the first date? Probably not. Yet, for some reason, people seem to think it's absolutely appropriate to propose during an early meeting with a new business contact. Just like your spouse, your new contact needs time to get to know you before jumping into a commitment. Take the time to build relationships before asking for a job lead, funding, or sponsorship.

Building a professional relationship doesn't have to be as time consuming as dating (after all, you're not making a life-long commitment!). However, it does need to be reciprocal (just sending email blasts doesn't count; they need to write back) and personalized (you need to know something about your contact other than what can be seen passing him on the street). So take the time to listen to your contact, learn about his challenges and interests, and share your ideas.

Give, give, give!

Do you know anyone who appears only when they need a favor and then disappears when you ask for something? Chances are you do and that you're a little resentful of the relationship.

The most pervasive, destructive misconception about networking is that it's all about getting things: favors, resources, leads, sales, and so on. People who work under that assumption soon get a reputation as takers. Other takers put up with them since they live in the same world, but most of us don’t respond well.

So switch your thinking. Your job as a networker is to give, give, and give some more. Think about what your contacts want, need, and value. And then give that. It needn't be large or pricy (in fact, if you send red roses you might end up with a restraining order). A simple forwarded email with a note like "I thought of you when I read this since I know you're interested in innovation in India / nanotechnology / bonsai trees. Enjoy!" is sufficient. Also good are occasional tweets, phone messages, and LinkedIn notes.

Now go build your network!

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IMAGE: Getty Images
Last updated: Mar 27, 2014

MAYA TOWNSEND | Columnist | Founder, Partnering Resources

Maya Townsend went from hiding in the corner at networking events to leading a company (Partnering Resources) that helps individuals, teams, and organizations thrive in our networked world. Using the science underlying human relationships and networks, she uncovers sound, practical methods for making soft skills generate hard results. Co-editor of The Handbook for Strategic HR, she'll happily tell you why you should throw out your performance reviews and why most HR departments need a total makeover. Sign up for her biweekly email, and you'll never miss her columns.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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